Credit: Bill Moore photo

In order to discuss New York’s current response to the 2020 Census, the Association for a Better New York (ABNY) hosted a Census press briefing last Thursday via Zoom.

ABNY Executive Vice President Melva Miller began the briefing by indicating the importance of completing the 2020 Census and the impact it will have on the state.

“Businesses look to the Census when making key decisions,” Miller said. “Neighborhoods look to the Census when it comes to affordable housing options, keeping streets paved and schools maintained. This is a quality of life issue.”

Because the recording of Census data began during the spread of COVID-19, the response rate of people is low. According to Miller, local citizens who interview residents who have not yet filled out the Census, also known as enumerators, will start knocking on doors on Aug. 11.

Miller also mentioned how the Trump administration attempted to prevent communities of color from filling out the Census: an obstacle that the state has to overcome in order to maintain their funding and representation in Congress.

“We know that there are barriers to completing the Census,” Miller said. “The Trump administration has used tactics to scare immigrants and vulnerable populations. We know that the Supreme Court declined the citizenship question.”

She introduced Joe Salvo, chief demographer, Population Division in the NYC Department of City Planning, who used his time to discuss New York’s current response rate compared to the national average. According to Salvo, New York City’s response rate on July 30 was 54%, the state was 57% and the national average was 63%.

He mentioned how collecting results for the 2020 Census is different than before.

“The 2020 Census was subjected to the perfect storm,” Salvo said. “This is my fourth Census and from my experience, there have been unprecedented forces at work. We are focusing on areas of the city with low response rates that are at risk to serious undercount.”

Salvo noted specific neighborhoods who are at risk of being underrepresented. While Co-Op City in the Bronx had a high response rate at 70%, only 40% of Wakefield residents have completed the Census.

After the last report, which was released on July 23, it became apparent there are 28 clusters that need attention immediately. These clusters include Jamaica and Hollis in Queens, Sunset Park in Brooklyn, Midtown Manhattan, and Northshore in Staten Island. He believes the best way to get accurate results is the self-response method, where residents complete the Census online or on the paper form.

Jeff Behler, the director for the Census Bureau’s New York Regional Office, concurred with Salvo that self-response is the best way for residents to be accurately represented in order to gain the adequate resources they need from the federal government. For New York residents who have relocated during the pandemic, they should fill out the Census using their primary address as of April 1, 2020.

Behler also addressed how enumerators will interview residents for the Census during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is mandatory for enumerators to wear masks,” Behler said. “They are also required to attend a COVID-19 training and take an oath to maintain privacy and confidentiality.”

According to Behler, there are 17,000 enumerators who are hired locally to speak the languages of the residents in the community. If there is an enumerator who does not speak the language of the resident, the resident will be referred to someone who does.

In regards to New York’s homeless population, Behler said that between Sept. 22 and Sept. 24, they will reach out to soup kitchens, food banks and homeless shelters so that homeless people can be counted in the 2020 Census.

Meeta Anand, the Census 2020 senior fellow at the New York Immigration Coalition, offered strategies that will encourage residents to complete the form and as a result, increase the overall response rate for the state.

Anand said that handing out swag is a good idea because it gets people’s attention and makes people want to apply. She also mentioned working with businesses to create discounts for services (haircuts, slices of pizza) or even getting an ice cream truck for the members of the communities that have yet to respond.

Last but not least, she talked about social media campaigns such as “We’re Here and We Count,” which promotes, in multiple languages, filling out the Census.

“The Census is a part of our democracy, and the act of everyone participating is a democratic act,” Anand said. “This is doable.”